“Land Grab” film focuses on innovative financial mogul

In partnership with the departments of Economics, Sociology/Social Work, History, Philosophy and Communication Arts & Sciences, SAO showed “Land Grab,” a film that follows the story of John Hantz, an eccentric and massively wealthy finance mogul, and his quest to create the world’s largest farm in Detroit’s lower eastside, a neighborhood that has been economically devastated for years.

Hantz’s vision was simple: he was to purchase a group of some of the neighborhood’s many vacant lots, level the empty and crumbling houses that are on them, and create a farm that would provide both food and jobs to those living in the neighborhood. As he moved forward with this plan, however, he met opposition from those living in the neighborhood that did not trust a multi-millionaire swiping up the land around where they have lived for decades. The opposition saw this as the first step of Hantz’s plot to gentrify their neighborhood, and visions of being forced out of their homes were palpable.

The film documents the political process in getting Hantz Farms approved and is peppered with interviews from both those who support and oppose the farm. Among those interviewed are Detroit city planners and councilmen that offer their analysis and opinion as to the effectiveness of somebody like John Hantz investing in a city through the private sector.

Despite skepticism and opposition, the farm — though with a crop of hardwood trees rather than the food producing crops that were originally intended — was passed. The film ends with interviews of those in the neighborhood that view Hantz Farms as a positive force in the community as well as statistics on the economic comeback that has been seen in the area in recent years.

Following the film was a question-and-answer time with Mike Score, who is the president of Hantz Farms and a key figure in the film. Score initially answered questions that expanded upon the nature of Hantz Farms’ crops and potential in the area. Questions also arose regarding the film’s treatment of the opposition – as some of the key opponents were not interviewed as to how they view the farm now that it’s a reality, as well as Kantz’ demeanor towards those in the neighborhood who were concerned about the farm, which was dismissive and disdainful. Some pushed Score on the lack of nuance the film portrayed as far as the racial history of Detroit and the reasonable skepticism of the opposition because of this history. Score assured those in the audience that the neighborhood supports Hantz Farms and the opposing forces dissolved and became dispassionate after the farm was approved. The questioners were vigilant that perhaps there are those that have been negatively affected by the farm and still oppose it, but the audience was left to take Score’s word that the farm has been an overall positive for Detroit.

The showing and discussion around “Land Grab” showcased a successful collaboration of multiple Calvin College offices and departments. The event showcased these offices and departments fulfilling their mission to foster an environment of critical thinking and thoughtful engagement for students in their time here at Calvin as well as the community surrounding the college.